Monthly competition – January 2021

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    Happy new year, everyone.

    We haven’t had a list of choices for a quite a while in the monthly competitions.

    For the January competition please write a story to include two of the following:
    – a road atlas
    – something made of wood
    – contrariness
    – a light switch; this can be literal or metaphorical

    Between 250 and 450 words.

    • This topic was modified 1 year ago by Libby.

    ‘Also known as …’

    Early Thursday, DS Mike Kennedy, on her arrival.
    ‘Infirmary’s been on. Ursula Bothwell died three this morning. Peacefully, they said.’
    ‘Not known. Which means –’

    ‘A PM. Not peaceful.’ DS Fran Lloyd strove to hide the threat of tears. Not normally a problem; had to be more than fifty times she’d heard the necessity stated and, for a women who’d lived nigh on her three score and ten years, could not be too much regretted. Not as much as she regretted, inwardly raged, at the bloody hormones that caused them.

    She’d promised Madigan – aka Saskia Griffin, fellow writer, who’d known her as Sue – she’d let her know. With luck, Madigan could do the formal ID.
    Against a background clatter of the fourteen month-old Charlie insisting on using fingers instead of spoon Madigan agreed. ‘Yeah, of course. Nine, at the mortuary?’

    But instead of the flame-haired Madigan it was her crime journalist husband Baz Rose who awaited her. A man Fran trusted far more than she did his fizzy, inclined-to-be self-centred wife.

    His smile wide and warm as the man himself. ‘Mad said she hadn’t told you; five, six years ago I helped Sue research a local crime in the archives. For her first crime novel. Before that, as Cassie Silver, she wrote fantasy. Despite saying she hated Ursula she named her characters after stars in the Ursa Major constellation. Back in her colourful hippy days –’
    Fran pictured the woman as she had last seen her. White hair, white gown, white sheets. Eyes, reportedly blue, never opened since found unconscious on Portobello beach, two weeks ago.

    Baz continued, ‘Sue also said – though that’s not why I’m here – she’d leave me her pendant..’
    ‘She was never without it. Ebony, with the Ursa Major shape picked out in silver. Dots and lines. Wire, I suppose. About so big –’ Thumb and first finger of his right hand made a three-sided shape; first finger of left hand closing it.
    Fran looked, ‘About five by three –’

    A momentary pause then, ‘Centimetres, yeah. Two by one in old money. Thing is, though, no-one’s seen it.’
    A frown, ‘No. I didn’t see it in her house. Not that we did an exhaustive search, Not when we just thought she’d fallen. What the PM discovers, if anything, could change that. You don’t have a picture, do you?’
    Since neither were family, they viewed without ceremony the woman who’d sought publicity for her books, but hidden her private self behind false names.

    ‘You do know she’d more than one house? She’ll have photos there. And a birth certificate. I think we’d better go and look, before we can confirm her proper, legal name.’

    [450 words. And a grateful continuation of last month’s tale, (though Bridie’s name has been changed) thanks to the ‘something made of wood’ and ‘contrariness’ prompts.]


    A half-time reminder, for anyone thinking of entering this month’s Den competition, that we’re half way through January.

    I hope everyone’s year is going well/reasonably well in the general Covid circumstances.


    Occasional rough language

    Prat’s Key Wood

    Prat’s Key Wood was as old as the hills. No, really.

    Well, seeing as the hills are billions of years old and forged in the countless aeons before organic life, that’s a stretch. But, I mean 1) it was ancient to the max and 2) it took Jacko and a team of ten, and a bulldozer, and chainsaws, just one day to flatten it. As it goes, Jacko was beginning to regret his impetuous decision. Or rather, he regretted not getting paid first.

    Some say that Prat’s Key Wood was a corruption of an old Sanskrit word for retribution. Probably balls. Then again, it was in the Domesday Book and there was a disputed mention in a Roman tablet uncovered in London from around nothing AD. And…bollocks…forget the speculation, Prat’s Key Wood was two hundred thousand years old, and that’s what Jacko had just chopped flat.

    See, the thing is, motorways. Not only that, but the GUVVAMENT was faced with a hard choice. The choice was whether to route the motorway a boring sensible way or the quick, easy, cheap way which would inconvenience nobody apart from some sheep, and give that really nice bloke Aldercy who used to be Bunny’s fag, a big old bung of GUVVAMENT cash.

    But, like, Prat’s Key Wood.

    That is, Prat’s Key Wood had wound up in land “owned” by Aldercy Ffootlong, third Baron Munney. Yes, keep up, the easy motorway land.

    So, Aldercy said ‘Wink, wink,’ he’d fix it. And that explains why Jacko’s van was racing at zero mph onto Aldercy’s estate after his money. Yes, zero mph.

    Zero! He was stationary!

    He’d been going really fast. Long story short, he’d phoned the Baron to say ‘job done’ and the Baron had said ‘Argle! Argle!’ which made a switch twitch in Jacko’s head and a light shone on the legend ‘you’re being shafted, Jacko’. And this made him drive like a nutter in pursuit of his dosh. And then he pulled onto the estate and, er, no estate. Like maybe there’s something in that Sanskrit and retribution thing, because it looked pretty much as though all those trees he’d strained his nuts to cut down had reappeared where Aldercy’s stately pile should be.

    As he contemplated ‘Argle, Argle,’ poor Jacko realised his legs were numb. As in wooden – with green leafy bits.

    ‘Argle, Argle,’ said Jacko.

    394 (without title)


    Three days to go before the monthly competition deadline! I know many Denizens are busy with the annual challenge. Still, as my grandmother used to say when spooning out seconds at the lunch table, any more for any more?



    ‘What do I need this for?’

    ‘It’s a new cinema, I don’t know the way.’

    ‘Well, get out your phone and ask it to direct you, like any normal person.’

    ‘You know what happened last time I tried that. I ended up driving in circles for half an hour until my phone found a connection. A map on the other hand, can’t go wrong.’

    ‘Fine. Let’s do this old style.’

    ‘Well, quickly, which way do I go here?’

    ‘Um… Left.’

    ‘Are you positive? It looks like you’ve got the atlas upside down?’

    ‘Give over. I know what I’m doing. It’s hardly rocket science… But maybe go right…’

    ‘You’re sure?’

    ‘Yes, I’m sure. Are you sure we can’t go to the new bowling alley instead of the cinema.’

    ‘You know the rules. I’m driving, I get to decide.’

    ‘Turn left here. THAT left. You’re going to miss it.’

    ‘Try giving me some warning next time.’

    ‘Well, if you’d used your phone…’

    ‘Just shut up and read the map.’

    ‘Ok. Ok. Straight across the roundabout. So, what’s so fancy about this new cinema.’

    ‘Ah, the acoustics are meant to be incredible. As if you’re actually on the movie set.’

    ‘The bowling alley’s meant to be state of the art too.’

    ‘What, do the skittles have jet packs or something?’

    ‘Ha. Ha. And you know they’re called pins, not skittles… straight across here… What are we going to see? Not another digitally remastered Star Wars, I hope.’

    ‘It’s a surprise. Wait until we get there… Hey, are you sure we’re going the right way. I thought it was east of town but we’re going south.’

    ‘Roads wriggle. We can’t go as the crow flies.’

    ‘I hope you’re right. I don’t want to miss the start.’

    ‘OK. Third exit on the roundabout, and then the place is on the left.’

    ‘You see. Wasn’t that easy. And we didn’t have to listen to the phone droning out directions… Hold on, this isn’t the cinema.’

    ‘And the light switch turns on! The map’s only as good as the person reading it. Now let’s go see if those skittles have jet packs.’

    (354 words)


    What a tantalising range of stories and good use of the prompts. The standard is so high, and having a small number of entries paradoxically doesn’t make it any easier! In all of them I particularly enjoyed the voices both in the dialogue and the narration. I know Sandra’s piece is an excerpt from a longer work and Ath’s and Kate’s could be complete in themselves or extracts too.

    In order of submission:

    Sandra’s @sandradavies episode from a police procedural is pacey and detailed, with well-drawn characters whose dialogue jumps off the page. I felt the ebony pendant was going to lead the investigation into what might be the true murkiness of Ursula Bothwell’s demise. Intriguing! I liked how some of characters had more than one name. ‘Also known as …’ indeed. I could hear the Scots accent too.

    Ath’s @athelstone story of an environmental crime with retribution already built in is also very pacey with a strong narrative voice. Details of the setting and the background to the events are well deployed to provide a rich scene, as is the variety of narrative techniques. The come-uppance for Jacko and Aldercy’s greed is very pleasing as well as funny.

    Kate @katemachon has cleverly created a story from dialogue and provided lots of fun with contrariness. The hapless map reader’s revenge is classic comedy. The dialogue is really snappy. I felt the two characters could be siblings – there’s that mix of familiarity and ironic conversation along with my sense that these two don’t see each other on a daily basis. I enjoyed how the road-map fan liked high-tech cinema and the sat-nav admirer liked the traditional bowling alley. It’s a nice comment on how our preferences can seem arbitrary and it made the title, ‘Directions’, a satisfying play on the word.

    Well done all of you. The winner is Ath for the overall voice and range of narrative techniques that enrich this story or episode.


    A small field but some fab entries and I’m very happy to be picked!


    Well done Ath – and thank you Libby – JUST the sort of challenge I best respond to (not sure what part the ebony pendant will play yet, but I’m glad of its inclusion). Much enjoyed your dialogue-only piece too Kate, so much action incorporated.


    Congratulations, Ath, and thanks for running the comp, Libby.

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